'We need somewhere to be heard': The woman setting up a safe space for young girls

Women take part in workshops as well as talking about their experiences during the camping trips. (Black Girls Camping Trip)

A charitable organisation set up to create a 'safe space' for black girls through specially-organised camping trips has raised thousands of pounds in just a few days thanks to an online fundraiser.

Tianna Johnson, 23, set up community interest company Black Girls Camping Trip after going camping for the first time and wanting to share the experience with fellow black girls.

Since then, Johnson has welcomed women from across the UK on two pre-lockdown camping trips and realised they not only provide a new experience but also create a safe space for black women to come together.

The 23-year-old, from north-west London, launched a fundraiser via GoFundMe to enable future trips to go ahead and in just a few days has already nearly hit her target of £8,000.

Her fundraising efforts come as worldwide attention is on issues of race and racism following the Black Lives Matters protests across the globe in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis.

Tianna Johnson set up Black Girls Camping Trip after she realised it could help create a safe space for black girls. (Picture: Black Girls Camping Trip)

Johnson told Yahoo News UK that black women are facing a range of challenges, from racism to the disproportionate effects of coronavirus on the black, Asian and ethnic minority (BAME) community, and warned that they are heading towards a “mental health crisis”.

“Black women are more likely to suffer from a whole range of mental health problems,” she said, citing statistics including a Cambridge University study that black women between the age of 16 and 24 are more likely to self harm than white women and figures that suggest that Black African-Caribbean girls are twice as likely to be excluded from school than their peers.

Read more: Sadiq Khan says that people do suffer as a result of racism in UK

Add that to the effects of prolonged lockdown, the higher proportions of the BAME community affected by COVID-19 and the recent anti-racist protests, prompting her to warn: “I know we’re 100% heading into a mental health crisis and if we’re already heading to that I don’t even want to imagine what we will be like in a year.

Johnson said the trips provide a space space where black girls' voices can be heard. (Picture: Black Girls Camping Trip)

“Global governments from the UK and France to the US and Brazil have shown their complete lack of commitment towards protecting the lives of black people and specifically black women. It is important that we get the support we need to protect our own communities.”

Johnson, who works in retail, said she first experienced camping when she lived in Tennessee in the US and was invited on a trip by a group of white girl friends.

“I just found that the camping experience was quite different for black girls,” she said. “Just things like having to tie up our hair which is quite a ritual for us, as well as not being to sleep outside because of our hair and skin which meant we had to sleep in a tent while the other girls slept in the open air.

“It made me realise it was a completely different experience for us. But I still loved it and found it really spiritual.”

Read more: 'Brave' women protesters stand in front of Black Lives Matter crowd to stop them attacking London police

When she returned to the UK, Johnson tried to encourage friends to go camping but most turned her down.

It was only when she posted on Twitter asking if any black girls wanted to go with her on camping trip in London that she noticed a huge demand for such trips.

“By the morning there were hundreds of replies and I realised, ‘Oh my god, I actually have to do this’,” she said.

She organised her first trip, which involved 65 people, in just two-and-a-half weeks and a second trip attracted 125 applicants.

A third trip was postponed this year but Johnson is hoping that by raising enough money to pay for campsite fees and buy camping staples they will eventually be able to organise another. Money raised will also go towards funding volunteers to run the trips — which are aimed at black women over the age of 18 — as well as paying for travel for people who can’t get to the area.

“I realised my position is actually for creating a space for taking these women out,” she said.

“When it comes to blackness, we tent to prioritise the voices of black men, and when it comes to womanhood we tend to prioritise the voices of white women – black women are at this intersection where our voices are not heard in either space.

“I understand the need for things to be inclusive but I also think exclusive spaces are really important and we need to invest in our women – because they hold up their communities.”

Johnson said she realised camping is a completely different experience for black girls. (Black Girls Camping Trip)

While some older generations find it hard to understand why black women would want to attend such camping trips, Johnson says the feedback from those who go on them is overwhelmingly positive.

The 23-year-old hopes that one day she could expand the idea across Europe to help communities of black women in different countries, but for now she is focused on fundraising to make sure girls in the UK can take advantage of the safe space that the trips create.

The Black Girls Camping Trip fundraiser is aiming to raise £8,000 which will pay for: two marquees to save costs for future trips; campsite staples like chairs and tables; paying people to run workshops during the trips; campsite fees; event insurance; volunteer support; and a travel fund to help black women from across the UK travel to the location.

“We are London-based but recognise that there are communities across the UK that need our help. Logistically, it doesn't work for us to go to these places but we can help our sisters make it to London for the trip,” she said.

“For now the trips are aimed at black women 18 and over but after 2022 we’re going to run these for younger sisters. It’s really important that our young girls are learning to take care of themselves and having somewhere they can come where they are heard.”

Find the Black Girls Camping Trip fundraiser at https://www.gofundme.com/f/5mfzcp-black-girls-camping-trip.